a data licensing problem

Lawrence E. Rosen lrosen at rosenlaw.com
Sat Nov 9 00:09:02 UTC 2002

In rereading the Feist case I found the following quotation from a
similar case.  I thought you might find it interesting.

Rockford Map Publishers, Inc. v. Directory Service Co., 768 F.2d 145
(76h Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1061.  [Defendant challenged
copyright protection for plaintiff's map, which was drawn principally
from numerical information in public land-title record books; the
defense was that plaintiff expended little time and effort in compiling
the map that defendant copied.]  The court wrote:

"The copyright laws protect the work, not the amount of effort expended.
A person who produces a short new work or makes a small improvement in a
few hours gets a copyright for that contribution fully as effective as
that on a novel written as a life's work....  Copyright covers, after
all, only the incremental contribution and not the underlying

"The input of time is irrelevant.  A photograph may be copyrighted,
although it is the work of an instant and its significance may be
accidental....  In 14 hours Mozart could write a piano concerto, J.S.
Bach a cantata, or Dickens a week's installment of Bleak House.  The
Laffer Curve, an economic graph prominent in political debates, appeared
on the back of a napkin after dinner, the work of a minute.  All of
these are copyrightable. /1/

"Dickens did not need to complete Bleak House before receiving a
copyright; every chapter -- indeed every sentence -- could be protected
standing alone.  Rockford Maps updates and republishes maps on more than
150 counties every year.  If it put out one large book with every map,
even Directory Service would concede that the book was based on a great
deal of "industry."  Rockford Map, like Dickens, loses none of its
rights by publishing copyrightable matter in smaller units."
/1/ "In principle, Mozart's work is in the public domain and anyway was
a work for hire.  The Archbishop of Salzburg probably held the rights.
There were no copyright laws in seventeenth-century Germany, and Bach
had no way to protect his rights.  Dickens was at the mercy of his
publishers.  Only Laffer's napkin, and not the idea represented by the
graph, may be copyrighted.  But the principle's the thing."

/Larry Rosen (although the quotation is from the decision by Judge

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